2017 World Press Freedom Index shows increased threats to media freedom

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has released the 2017 World Press Freedom Index that shows an increase in the number of countries where media freedom has declined.

A statement from RSF says the World Press Freedom map is getting darker and media freedom is under threat now more than ever.  A total of 21 countries are now colored black on the press freedom map because the situation there is classified as “very bad.” Of these, Burundi,s ranked 160th out of 180 in the 2017 Index has been added to the black zone.

In 2015 President Pierre Nkurunziza launched a fierce crackdown against media outlets that covered a coup attempt after his decision to run for a third term. RSF reports that Burundi is now locked in a crisis and media freedom is dying. Charged with supporting the coup, dozens of journalists have fled into exile. For those that remain, the report says, working is almost impossible without toeing the government line.

Another East African country, Tanzania, also saw a decline in media freedoms in 2016. The 2017 index places it in 83rd place, down 12 points from the previous year. This decline is attributed to frequent threats, attacks and arrests of journalists and the heavy hand of President John Magufuli, who according to the report, “tolerates no criticism of himself or his programme”. Additionally, newly passed laws like the Cyber Security Act, the Media Services Act and the Statistics Act criminalise the dissemination of information.

Uganda’s position in the Index has also dropped considerably. It went from 102nd place in 2016 to 112 in the 2017 Index. The RSF report blames this on regular intimidation and violence against journalists, and serious media freedom violations in the 2016 general election.

Neighbouring Kenya remained in 90th place on the Index, but there are concerns about the slow erosion of media freedoms there. The RSF report found that as Kenya prepares for general elections in August 2017, many independent journalists have been the targets of threats and attacks by both the public and the authorities.

Rwanda is the only East African country that had an improvement in its World Press Freedom Index rankings, moving up two points to the 159th place. However censorship and self-censorship are commonplace in Rwanda despite a new media law that was passed in 2010.

Visit Reporters Without Borders for the full report on the 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

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